Thankfully in New Zealand we live in a society where everyone is entitled to an opinion. However, opinion pieces, including this one, must be considered and questioned to verify the truthfulness of any claims made.
Unfortunately columnist Mike Yardley recently wrote an opinion piece saying legalising recreational drug use was not in the public interest. So I thought a research-based response was needed.
Yardley infers that the high rates of family violence in New Zealand can be related to cannabis consumption. This assertion is incredibly misleading when considering the link between excessive alcohol consumption and family violence has well and truly been established not only here in New Zealand, but worldwide.
Yardley suggests there’s a link between cannabis use and methamphetamine use, with cannabis as the “gateway drug”. In contrast to his theory, science researchers from Texas A&M University and the University of Florida earlier this year published a peer-reviewed study in the Journal of School Health that concluded “alcohol was the most widely used substance among respondents, initiated earliest, and also the first substance most commonly used in the progression of substance use.”
Yardley also infers that because 55 per cent of New Zealands prison inmates are cannabis dependent, the plant must be the dominant fuel for crime. It should be highlighted that one third of all police apprehensions involve alcohol rather than cannabis, as do half of all violent crimes committed around the country.
In addition, the risk that bears the heaviest consequences from drug consumption is that of lethal overdose. It is sadly becoming more common in New Zealand to see headlines like “Mother of teen who drank herself to death tells of heartbreak” while with cannabis an adult is required to smoke an impossible 680 kilograms of cannabis within 15 minutes to induce a lethal response.
This begs the question of which drug is actually causing the most harm in our society?
Unsurprisingly, there is still some belief in the misinformation of the 1970s that cannabis use in New Zealand is causing schizophrenia. A Harvard Medical School study discovered that “having an increased familial morbid risk for schizophrenia may be the underlying basis for schizophrenia in cannabis users and not cannabis use by itself”.
This conclusion is in line with the majority of scientific studies in this field. So, while smoking may induce early onset for those predisposed, there is no proven causation link simply from consumption.
Cannabis legalisation in New Zealand is currently a hot topic. One argument against legalisation is that following policy reform, the teen cannabis smoking rate would be expected to increase. However, evidence from American states where the drug is already recreationally legal suggest otherwise.
In Colorado, the latest teen poll debunked this argument finding that teen use, rather than increase, actually dropped following legalisation: “The survey shows marijuana use has not increased since legalisation, with four of five high school students continuing to say they dont use marijuana, even occasionally.”
In terms of economics, it was recently revealed that $400 million of New Zealands taxpayer resources are spent annually enforcing prohibition of the plant, which, for perspective, results in a little more than 200 hospital admissions per year.
If cannabis were to be legalised here, New Zealand would stand to gain more than $150 million in tax revenue, which could then be applied to education programs and specialised healthcare clinics to assist the already underfunded public healthcare system.
In contrast, the most commonly used and abused legal drug, alcohol, costs our country billions every year in overall harm. Part of this cost is attributable to the added demand to stretched hospital resources. One New Zealand study shows that between 18 and 35 per cent of all emergency department injuries are related to alcohol consumption, with the percentage rising to between 60 and 70 per cent on weekends.
Further, the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research has recently come out in favour of cannabis legalisation, with principal economist Peter Wilson telling Radio New Zealand “it costs about $180 million to enforce the law against marijuana and were losing tax revenue of about $110 million, so if it wasnt illegal we wouldnt have to enforce that law so wed save that money and wed probably raise more money in taxes to be spent on something else”.
With the mounting research on its medicinal properties, it is no longer a question of if, but when New Zealand will eventually legalise cannabis. Legislative change will allow thousands of people such as terminal cancer sufferer and trade unionist Helen Kelly to legally grow, purchase and consume the right strain of cannabis for unfortunate illnesses without fear of punishment from the state.
Hundreds of millions of resources that were once spent enforcing outdated drug laws will be reallocated to serious crime such as solving burglaries and closing down methamphetamine production.
Its time for us to open up to the cannabis debate using research and reason, not misinformation and misconceptions. Science is now clearly on the side of those wishing to change the current legislation.
The time to legalise is now.